More than 4,000 people died in fires last year, making fire the fourth leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Most of these fires were the result of human carelessness. Despite the fact that we all know that it takes three things to produce a fire–fuel, oxygen, and heat–we allow these ingredients for tragedy to combine in our homes. Most of us think we know all the fire prevention rules, but we seem to forget them all too easily.
Here’s an example of how innocently we can set the stage for a fire. Read the story and locate all the mistakes this teen made preparing for a party. The result was a fire that killed four of his friends and left him with burns over 40 percent of his body.
When Phil began setting up the basement for a party, his first concern was to be sure there was enough power for the amplifiers the band would be using. Knowing that amps draw a lot of power, he changed the fuses in the fuse box to a higher amperage so they would not “blow” during the party. Then he ran extension cords end-to-end to the corner where the band would be playing. Since he didn’t want people to trip on the cords, he tape the lightweight cords to the floor under the rug. He found a triple socket to plug into the single socket near the band so there would be room for all the plugs.
Since the screen in front of the fireplace would be in the way, he removed it. Phil reasoned that he only planned to have the fire burning when people arrived. He would put it out later, when the basement was filled with people.
When he saw his 8-year-old brother’s models, glue, and airplane parts on the table, he cleaned them up and put them in the back storage room where the water heater and furnace were located. He shut the door to keep the kids from wandering around the rest of the basement.
Phil though some partygoers might like to watch a video. He went upstairs, past the fire extinguisher at the top of the stairs, and got the TV from his bedroom and brought it down, along with the VCR. The TV and VCR fit snuggly into the space on the shelf, and he plugged both into an outlet.
Since the basement had no doors or windows to the outside, it smelled a little musty. Phil brought out an aerosol room deodorizer intending to spray it around before the guests arrived.
Convinced that smoking might set off the smoke detector outside the back room, he removed the battery just for the evening. Now he felt the basement was ready for the party.
Have you noticed that it was also ready for fire? How many mistakes did you find? Compare your list with this one.
1 Phil’s first mistake was changing the fuses in the fuse box. By increasing the amperage, he allowed more current to flow through the lines than they were equipped to handle. The byproduct is heat, one of the three ingredients for producing a fire.
2 When we plug extension cords together, we increase the danger of fire.
3 In addition, placing the cords under the rug meant that people would be stepping on them all evening without realizing it. This can break down the insulation on the cord, adding both heat and fuel.
4 To make matters worse, the cords were not suitable for a heavy-duty job.
5 Phil overloaded the sockets. This presents a danger similar to #1.
6 By removing the screen from the fireplace, Phil increased the chance for a spark to pop out onto the rug and start a fire. He did not check to see if the rug was fire-resistant.
7 Phil took a flammable substance–glue–and placed it in the same room with an open flame. Substances such as glue, gasoline, and paint give off vapors that can be ignited by an open flame, such as the one in the water heater or furnace.
8 When he brought his TV and VCR down to the basement, he placed them in a space that allowed no air circulation, the shelf. Electrical appliances need space around them to vent the heat produced when they are used.
9 He disconnected the smoke detector–the one device that could warn him of disaster.
10 To make matters worse, he left the fire extinguisher upstairs instead of bringing it down where it would be available in case of fire. Since fire seeks oxygen, it often vents up a stairway before people have a chance to escape. Phil created a real “death trap” for his party. This basement had no exit, except the stairs to the next floor. In case of a sudden fire, fire or smoke could block the only exit.
When we are in a hurry and preoccupied, our fire safety knowledge may go up in smoke instead of being used to make the home safe. Check your home tonight, and discuss with your family how you would get out of your house in case of fire. Include a place to meet once you get outside. By planning ahead and taking the necessary steps to avoid tragedy, you’ll be better safe than sorry.